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The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of…

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (edition 2008)

by Timothy Keller

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Title:The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Authors:Timothy Keller
Info:Dutton Adult (2008), Hardcover, 160 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller



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Started this 2 days ago, February 4. A real departure from the historical interpretation of the Prodigal Son. I've always known the older brother had issues, but I didn't realize that it had to do with self-righteousness and a lack of love for his brother and coveting. That's what rang home for me. I was a prodigal son and I repented for that, but in shedding that skin, I became self-righteous, self-centered, holier than though and a know-it-all. The development of love in me was sorely lacking. Pray that will change. ( )
  MissyHiett | Feb 3, 2014 |
A great book with a great message. The sign of the Keller reigns. ( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Oct 7, 2013 |
A soul-searching exposition of the gospel as found in the parable of the two sons. Keller skillfully performs spiritual heart surgery on both the rebellious and the pious, showing both their deep need for a savior like Jesus. I especially enjoyed his description of the gospel picture of the Feast in the last chapter. ( )
  Garrett_Lee | Jun 3, 2013 |
Tim Keller takes on a very well known parable. Perhaps the most well known, out of all of Jesus' teachings. But he takes it in a different direction and helps us to turn and focus on the older brother as well as the younger brother. Both brothers, he points out, show a way to be alienated from God. One by "riotous living" and the other by trusting in our own works to save us.

But the father loves both, and pleads for both of them to return. Keller takes things a step further when he points out a faulty elder brother sets us up to long for a true and rightoues older brother, who longs for us to return home as well,and joins in the party when we do. Jesus is the true and better older brother. ( )
  laholmes | Dec 19, 2012 |
The Prodigal Author: A Review of Tim Keller's "The Prodigal God"

"O God, thou who art 'untamed and perilous,' who dost 'deal in every form of danger, and many modes of death,' strip us of our pretensions and vanities; expose to the strong his weakness, and to the wise his folly, but set in our hearts an inconquerable hope, and in thine own way fulfill it."

"Love is a spendthrift, leaves its arithmetic at home, is always 'in the red'. And God is love."

Paul Scherer, Love Is a Spendthrift (New York: Harper & Brothers. 1961. Pages 1 and 15.)

'If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than me or else just silly.'

'Then he isn't safe?' asked Lucy.

'Safe?' said Mr. Beaver. 'Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.'

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperCollins. 1978. page 80.)

The Bible is an indispensable tool to be kept at hand when reading religious literature. Just as a dictionary is a basic tool for understanding literature of all types, the Bible is essential for determining the value of a religious book. Therefore, when we come to any book whose author purports to open up new vistas of truth on the Book of Truth (as Keller does on pages xiii-xiv), we must be all the more careful to take our Bible in hand, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit "prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

We must also be aware that many writers apply their presuppositions and extra-biblical opinions to their interpretation of Scripture. (Perhaps few moderns have been the starting point in this eisegesis as has C. S. Lewis. Keller's presuppositions are more clearly stated in such locations as pages 48, 90, 97, etc.)

The two authors quoted at the outset of this review do state some truth, but the admixture of literary devices makes their words potentially dangerous, especially when metaphor is not identified as such.

In the first Scherer quote there is metaphorical language followed by literal language; the sentence isn't strictly declarative, as in the sentence "All men are mortal." In the second quote it is the reverse, as the metaphor follows the plainly literal. One can tell by the construction of the sentences what is metaphor and what is not.

The C. S. Lewis quote is, of course, from a children's book, and since Keller has stated he was much affected by Lewis (http://timkeller.info/quotes/) and refers to him often in this work, the quote illustrates how his idea for the title and book may have actually originated (it is uncannily similar to Scherer as well), although he claims it was Edward Clowney who started him on his way. [Why mature men find children's stories foundational to their theology suggests something, but it isn't complimentary.] However, in the quotes given and in Keller's view, the proposition would seem to be, "God's grace is dangerous", a proposition vainly sought for in Scripture.

In order to test Tim Keller's understanding of the parable of Luke 15, which he recasts as The Prodigal God, we must know what Jesus intended to teach in it. Moreover, we must be careful to take Jesus' point as just that, and be careful not to make the intended purpose of the parable simply one message among many, thereby emptying the parable, and Jesus, God incarnate, of a certain purpose. Strangely, Keller mentions this basic hermeneutical principle on page 76: "...we can't press every single detail literally." Yet he proceeds to do just that.

(It is suggested the reader read Luke 15 before continuing.)

Verse 1 tells us that "the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him", referring to Jesus. This brought forth grumbling: "This man [Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them." Clearly, they are grumbling about Jesus. We conclude that Jesus is telling the Pharisees about himself throughout the remainder of the passage. He stops speaking to the Pharisees and begins speaking to his disciples in verse 1 of Luke 16, so we can safely say that the entirety of Luke 15 is addressed to the Pharisees in answer to their grumbling.

Thus far, the context of the passage.

Bearing in mind that the first two parables (which Keller handles fairly enough) teach that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10) Jesus basically states, "I do not just receive sinners and eat with them, I go and find them out. And, when I find them out and bring them to Myself I lavish my grace [deliberately directed abounding and bestowed goodness--rrg] on them, so that they repent and we celebrate."

Keller takes great pains in Chapter 7 to draw out the idea that God invites us to a feast. The rejoicing in the grace of God has no fault in it. Since "the gospel" admits of both a narrow and broad construction (according to W. Robert Godfrey) it is clear that Jesus is emphasizing a narrower construction as he does not touch on the subject of sanctification in this parable.

So, Keller is placing the emphasis on the incredibly gracious nature of the gospel. Yet, it seems to me that in some strange attempt to rescue us from Gnosticism and Platonism he overextends the metaphor and lands us at the table with Bacchus instead of Christ. (Paul says, "the stomach for food, and food for the stomach, but they both shall be destroyed", 1 Corinthians 6:13). Lewis' Narnia rears its head once again.

(Lewis was greatly captivated by Greek paganism. His affectionate followers, men such as Doug Wilson, often are unable to distinguish between the literal and the metaphorical. If ever I do a doctoral thesis, this might be it! Further, in the Narnia series Lewis places the Christ-like Aslan with a diversity of pagan gods and demi-gods, all in harmony. Could this disjunction be the obvious bedfellow of equivocation and the turning of definitions on their collective heads that Keller suffers from?)

Keller basically represents the grace of God throughout the book in a positive, grand, exultory way, and we much agree with it. If this were all that Keller did in fulfilling his purpose "to lay out the essentials of the Christian message, the gospel" (page xi) we could all rejoice and raise our glasses. "If only..."

In the very next paragraph--on the same page--Keller goes off of his objective by stating, "one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do." This is more than passing strange: the meaning of this statement amounts to saying "If I believe I understand something I really do not." This paradoxical manner may pass for piety in some circles, but I suggest if you run in such a circle you find a better one.

What Keller appears to mean is that by the time you finish his book, if you agree with his interpretation, you might actually believe the gospel.

About six months after the book came out, Keller contradicted his seemingly paradoxical statement in an interview:

"...those who understand the gospel cannot possibly look down on anyone, since they were saved by sheer grace, not by their perfect doctrine or strong moral character." Tim Keller in Christianity Today (December 2008) pp. 50-53.

This, too, is a strange statement, and although it is off topic, Keller seems to be saying that the sin of pride won't be found in the regenerate....What strange new Perfectionism is this?

Keller insists (pages xv and 34, for instance), contrary to the context, that the father of the parable represents God the Father. But, as we have noted, Jesus is answering the Pharisees concerning himself. The father, the younger brother, the elder brother, and other illustrative terms and details are incidental to the meaning of the passage. Jesus could just have well used an entirely different set of metaphorical terms to make his point. An uninspired Aesop did it with great success as well.

Contradicting his dictum on interpretation given on page 76 (see above) Keller then begins to press his thesis that God is a prodigal: a reckless spendthrift.

Titilating, but not true.

Adopting the idea that a reckless spendthrift spends until he has nothing left, Keller claims that God is reckless because he refuses to reckon or count the sons' sins against them. The Bible refers to this compassionate disposition and act as grace, we agree, but it never makes recklessness an attribute of God, as Keller does. Tim Keller may, after the imaginations of his own heart, prefer to see God in this light, but, if it is not according to God's Word, there is no light in it.

On page 20 Keller describes the reckless behavior of the son, who "squanders everything he has through an out-of-control lifestyle." His prodigality was to recklessly exhaust what he had been given. Jesus is not describing himself as reckless (a blasphemous thought), but is describing the recklessness of the son. In my opinion, Keller just plain equivocates and highjacks a word based on his prior notions and an intention to be novel. He changes the very words of God to suit his own purpose. Here, as elsewhere, Keller is contradicted by Scripture. Bear in mind, however, that the emphasis of Jesus is on the greatness of his grace, not the prodigality of the son. I have to ask, "Why did Keller not call his book The Great Lavishness of God's Grace?" Probably sounded too Puritan. This may also contribute to Keller's failure to define righteousness in terms if active obedience, or the pursuit of righteousness (more on this later).

Keller cites too little of the remainder of God's Word in this book, disagreeably to his Confession of Faith (Chapter 1, Sections 6 and 7). His insistence that God is reckless seems to me to be an attack on God's immutablity and his ascetity; to attack one attribute is to attack them all, as God is One, and to attack one attribute is to attack God's glory, which is the displayed unity of his attributes. This is tantamount to a denial of Chapter 2 of Keller's avowed Standards as well.

What is good in this book is mitigated by the abuse of that good. We suspect what is good in it is not original, and that what is wrong with it has its roots in Keller, Lewis, or elsewhere, but not in Scripture.

Whatever the case, in an age of cultic admiration for authorial novelties, Tim Kellers The Prodigal God does not disappoint, with its reckless innovation based on a mere equivocation.

Is God a prodigal? Is he reckless? Is his grace then exhaustible, as is the wealth of the spendthrift? Scripture does not reveal these things, and Keller falls into idolatry. Would he had consulted the Westminster Standards before writing, but he would have searched in vain there, as well as in the Bible, for his imaginative creation. And would that he had submitted his transcript to his peers before submitting it to his publisher.

Christ is made the sure foundation and Cornerstone. If God is not safe, we are without assurance, for if he is dangerous to us we are not on sure ground. If you mean to say that our sins are not safe with God, we agree, and the danger his holiness presents to our sin is truly something we embrace. Say such plainly. But, turn language on its head, and the Big Tent has too many rings in it to be even remotely entertaining.

Other problems in this book: some of its psychological assertions; its emotionalism; its over-dependence on secular works to illustrate spiritual truth, practically denying Romans 15:4; its assertion that there is a prerequisite for receiving the grace of God (page 45); and, its virtual silence on the use of the Law of God (compare Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 19, Section 6).

A note on this last point. Many accusations have been made against Keller (and--"guilty by association", for reasons we are as of yet unfamiliar with--against Reformed University Ministries) of being "antinomian." We do not believe this book bears that out, unless it be found in:

1. The fact that Keller subvert's the definition of sin on page 43, defining sin as "not just breaking the rules, [but] putting yourself in the place of God", when by his oath as an elder he would better define sin as "any transgression of or want of conformity unto the law of God" (from this omission stem charges that Keller is antinomian); or

2. An argument from silence, which is always fallacious.

An Antinomian is one who denies that the law is of any use to the Christian or under any obligation to obey it. Keller makes no such statements. Why he does not take opportunity around page 122 to support his Confession and teach Scripture on the topic is, at best, a tantalizing question, but not a basis for formal charges. It is definitely a basis for men who can to address it with him.

Not talking about something is not tantamount to not believing it. This was the fallacious reasoning that caused one author to question whether or not C. S. Lewis went to heaven, because he could find no specific reference to the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Lewis' works (yes, he did a complete induction, according to his own testimony). To that author--now dead and yet cognizant of where exactly Lewis is spending eternity--silence implied that Lewis didn't know the Gospel. An argument from silence, at best. At worse, very much like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, and akin to the elder brother Keller waxes on about in The Prodigal God.

Just because we prefer someone to say something and they do not we should not jump to condemnation.

We commend the study of Luke 15 without the help of Tim Keller.

God is love. God is also holy. And because he is both of these things (and more) he is jealous for his own glory, a glory denigrated and debased when it is recast and thereby diminished. I tremblingly wonder what shall befall those who lead God's children astray. For in atttributing recklessness to God a vice becomes a virtue, and God becomes a devil.

"Dear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Eternal God. Grant repentance to your servants, and correct their sins for your own glory and for their good. Be merciful in judgment, and teach us mercy by our observance of your wrath against those who drag you down from heaven. In Jesus Name. Amen."

(Not everybody sees things the same. I am painfully aware of the critiques being circulated of the so-called "Grace Movement" which includes Keller, Tulian Tchividian, Steve Brown, etal. There is some substance to those criticisms, just as there are just criticisms to my own views expressed herein. I did not review TPG to find bugbears, but because I was asked by a friend, family member, and fellow Christian to read and review it. Since I do not have an axe to grind, whatever comes back to me by way of comments and ctiticisms are gladly received.) ( )
  Ron_Gilbert | Aug 11, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0525950796, Hardcover)

Newsweek called renowned minister Timothy Keller ?a C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century? in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God. In that book, he offered a rational explanation of why we should believe in God. Now, in The Prodigal God, he uses one of the best-known Christian parables to reveal an unexpected message of hope and salvation.

Taking his trademark intellectual approach to understanding Christianity, Keller uncovers the essential message of Jesus, locked inside his most familiar parable. Within that parable Jesus reveals God's prodigal grace toward both the irreligious and the moralistic. This book will challenge both the devout and skeptics to see Christianity in a whole new way.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:29 -0400)

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Uses the biblical tale of the prodigal son to provide both an introduction to Christianity and a clarifying primer on the nature of the gospel for believers, in a resource that reveals how Jesus's essential message is revealed by the story in ways that can enable greater understandings of the Christian faith.… (more)

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